Kennedy Meeks’ return solidifies North Carolina inside for 2016-17

Kennedy Meeks tested draft waters but will return to UNC for 2016-17. (USATSI)

North Carolina big man Kennedy Meeks initially declared for the NBA Draft without an agent, but on Wednesday he ended his investigation period with the announcement that he’ll be back in Chapel Hill for his senior season.

“I appreciate the support my coaches and teammates gave me during this process as we gathered information about my professional opportunities at this time,” Meeks said. “The feedback on what I have to work on so that I can have a great senior year, help my team have a great season and be ready to take that next step is invaluable.”

Meeks, a three-year contributor and frequent starter for the Tar Heels down low, didn’t have the breakout season many expected in 2015-16. A knee injury forced him to miss seven games, and he saw a slight decline in points per game (9.2), rebounds per game (5.9) and shooting percentage (54.0) from his sophomore season.

“Kennedy did the right thing in taking the time to see where he stood with the NBA draft at this point in his career, an opportunity we encourage all of our players to take,” Roy Williams said in a statement released by the school. “I think Kennedy’s made the right decision in returning to school to finish his degree and put himself in better position toward playing professional basketball, which is his dream.

“If he works hard this summer, he can have a big-time senior season and also help our team reach its goals.”

North Carolina is No. 7 in the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one) for 2016-17, ranked in the top-10 based on the assumption that Meeks would be back, joining Isaiah Hicks as a starting forward for the Tar Heels next year. Justin Jackson, like Meeks, decided to enter the NBA Draft process without signing an agent. Unlike Meeks, Jackson was invited to the NBA Draft Combine and is expected to continue with the draft process before deciding whether to return to school.

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